High School Meets Truck Driver Challenge Hands-On

High School Meets Truck Driver Challenge Hands-On

A Patterson, California, high school has an answer to the commercial truck driver shortage: kick young students’ interest into high gear.

Its recently launched truck driving school program puts high school students behind the wheel. In addition to classroom instruction, they receive hands-on experience on a truck as well as training on truck simulators, where they learn how to shift a 10-speed transmission.

"The reaction from the students taking this class has been powerful," says Dave Dein, truck driving program coordinator and instructor at Patterson High School. "This class provides a platform for students to experience success. Several of the students who took the class this year came in with low self-esteem and confidence. These are students who did not do well in the traditional classes, but now they are learning about something they care about and have transformed themselves."

In 2016, Dein, a fourth-grade teacher, had approached Superintendent Dr. Philip Alfano with the idea of starting a truck driving school, one of the first high school truck driving programs in the United States. Before becoming a teacher, Dein was a driver for a large manufacturing company, logging more than 700,000 accident- and ticket-free miles.

After getting the green light from Dr. Alfano, Dein enlisted district Career Technical Education Director Jeff Rowe, who leveraged funding for the program. They brought in industry partners and created an advisory board, which included Morning Star Trucking, Penske Logistics, Foster Farms, and Northern Refrigerated, to help develop the program.

They based the program on the most stringent industry-level standards set by the Professional Truck Driver Institute as well as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Entry Level Driver Training Standards that go into effect in 2020.

Though the program is still new, it has clearly made inroads.

"I had one parent come to me and with tears in his eyes thanked me for saving his son," says Dein. "He shared he was so worried that his son was going down the wrong path in life, but since taking this class he is now focused on graduating high school and excited about his future in the transportation industry."